Faith in Codes
Many profess faith in "codes" hidden in Hebrew Bible
Belief In hidden
messages grows with computer analyses linking passages In the
ancient Scriptures to modern people and events
By JOHN DART
A Prague rabbi, who escaped a Nazi death train, claimed to have
discovered coded messages in the Hebrew Bible shortly after World War II.
He declared, among other things, that the word "Torah" was spelled in the books
of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy,—you just had to take the
first letter of each book and skip ahead 50 letters at a time.
Then, in 1986, two Israeli scientists, out of curiosity, started running the
Hebrew letters of Genesis through a computer and reported that all sorts of
historical names and events were encoded in the texts—most notably names
of three dozen famous rabbis.
Others with computers then found word combinations linked to 20th
century wars and assassinations, including clusters such as "Hitler,"
"Auschwitz" and "Holocaust."
Soon, Orthodox Jewish groups were touting the "Torah codes" as evidence of God's
hand on all of human history.
Christians got into the act, too, claiming to have discovered coded phrases
about Jesus in the Old Testament, citing them as confirmation that he was,
indeed, the awaited messiah.
These days, the codes are a certifiable phenomenon and a religious controversy.
Some 30 Internet sites are devoted to them, seminars feature Hollywood
celebrities, and at least three books decipher the supposed hidden messages.
The latest, "The Bible Code" by Michael Drosnin, was just released with a
publicity blitz suggesting that familiar Bible narratives, written 25
centuries ago, contained predictions of the 1995 assassination of Israeli
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin—prompting complaints that this was taking the
codes too far into the realm of sensationalism.
But movie rights have already been sold. And the codes have clearly become part
of public consciousness—Jay Leno has satirized them in his monologues.
To the unconvinced, the drive to find hidden codes in Scriptures is a
meaningless "word-search puzzle" or, worse, "magic in the guise of science."
The critics see the burgeoning fascination as only the latest effort to replace
faith with scientific certainty, resembling attempts to authenticate Bible
stories through expeditions to find the remains of Noah's Ark or to prove
with carbon-dating tests that the Shroud of Turin bears the image of the
Critics lament that the codes debate diverts attention from core questions
'Codes' appeal mushrooms
"What does this have to do with values and one's direction in life"? said Rabbi
Chaim Seidler-Feller, director of the Hillel student center at the
University of California, Los Angeles.
the "codes" have undeniable appeal to legions of devotees.
the last decade, 60,000 people around the world have been exposed to the
messages during $25 daylong seminars run by Aish HaTorah, an Israeli-based
organization that seeks to bring secular Jews back into the fold
Douglas hosted one seminar last year in Los Angeles. Actor Jason Alexander,
the nebbishy George on TV's "Seinfeld," hosted another in February at UCLA,
attracting a sellout crowd of 430.
notion of scientists scrutinizing the Bible is not new.
Newton, the l7th century physicist, was convinced the Old Testament
contained a "cryptogram set by the Almighty," a biographer wrote, and that
he might find, hidden riddles of "past and future events divinely
the current frenzy of code-breaking, Jewish practitioners have focused on
the first five biblical books, known as the Torah.
method resembles what was done by cryptanalysts on both sides in the Cold
War. They tried to read each other's secret communications by submitting
intercepted messages to computer analysis, hoping that meaningful words and
phrases would emerge.
First, all the letters of a text—304,805 in the case of the Torah—are
combined in a single chain. Then the code-breakers look for messages by
linking letters at regular intervals, taking every 10th one for instance,
or every 142nd—sometimes reading forward, sometimes backward.
computer searches lead both Jewish and Christian code proponents to
maintain that the Hebrew spellings of Hitler, Auschwitz and Holocaust could
be found grouped at 22 or 13-letter intervals in Deuteronomy 10:17‑22.
such as that might have remained a backwater curiosity, except for one
elaborate test, printed in a scientific publication.
August 1994, the journal Statistical Science published a paper describing
research on the Book of Genesis led by physicist Doron Witztum of the
Jerusalem College of Technology and mathematician Eliyahu Rips of Hebrew
University The two men had been running computer tests on the sacred texts
Outside evaluators baffled
editor at the time, Robert Kass, chairman of the statistics department at
Carnegie-Mellon University, wrote that the paper was offered "as a
challenging puzzle" to readers of the quarterly published in Hayward, Calif.
Outside evaluators were "baffled," he reported: "Their prior beliefs made
them think the Book of Genesis could not possibly contain meaningful
references to modern-day individuals, yet when the authors carried out
additional analyses and checks, the effect persisted."
Israeli scientists originally sent the journal the results of an experiment
that pulled out from Genesis the names and birth or death dates of 34
eminent Jewish rabbis who lived between the 9th and 18th
"Simply put, the results were stunning," said Rabbi Daniel Mechanic, who
heads the U.S. headquarters of Aish HaTorah's Discovery Seminar in
Brooklyn, N.Y., the group that touts the validity of the codes at seminars.
the peer review committee for Statistical Science was not satisfied, Kass
said. The panel asked that the authors attempt to find the names and birth
or death dates of 32 additional rabbis drawn, like the first group, from
the Encyclopedia of Great Men in Israel.
The authors reported finding them, too, and said the, odds were 62,500 to 1
against that happening by chance. As a control, a Hebrew translation of
Tolstoy's "War and Peace" was tested for similar data.
The result? No bonanza of rabbis' names in the secular novel.
Harold Gans, a seminar teacher with Aish HaTorah who recently retired as a
mathematician with the U.S. Department of Defense, said he has taken the
experiment, another step by finding the locations of the births and deaths
of the 32 rabbis encoded in Genesis.
Also found in a section in Genesis, Mechanic said, were words and phrases linked
to the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat: "Sadat,"
"parade" "the president will be shot," the name of assassin Chaled
Islambooli and 5742, the Hebrew year corresponding to 1981.
The code project received wider exposure in October 1995; in the magazine Bible
Then came the counterattack by no shortage of skeptics.
Letters to the magazine questioned how many failures occurred while looking
for word pairs and how many contradictory or religiously offensive pairs
went unmentioned, such as "water" and "dry," or "Yahweh," one of the
biblical names of God, and "liar."
In addition, because Hebrew is written with consonants only, critics said many
words contained only a few letters—"Torah," in Hebrew, has only three—greatly increasing the odds that some words could be found in profusion.